During of four albums, St. Paul & the Broken Bones have moved nimbly from retro soul to futuristic funk and beyond, rarely settling in one place for too long. Although the band from Alabama draws on different musical traditions, it’s not unlike the ever-changing work that David Bowie has done throughout his career.
“Someone like Bowie, they’re always changing,” frontman Paul Janeway says, calling during a brief spell back home in Birmingham. “And Prince – I love Prince. You have to move on, if you do the same thing over and over – there’s nothing wrong with that, but at the same time, I’m the kind of person who prefers to throw the grenade under the house and the blow it up and try to rebuild it than just add to the house.
St. Paul & the Broken Bones pay tribute to fellow grenade thrower Bowie with a new cover of “Moonage Daydream,” which he recorded in 1971 and released the following year on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars. In true St. Paul style, the band locks into the groove and gives Janeway the space to show off her voice. In the middle section, they cleverly flip the guitar solo to make it a feature of the horns, generating a soulful interstellar whirlwind at the conclusion.
“Alabama has a lot of space history, so anything to do with that informs a lot of what we do artistically. I think it’s honestly kind of an idea to want to escape sometimes,” says Janeway, nodding at the state’s association with rocket science, “I’m always drawn to the weird, the artistic, the spatial element: everything about Bowie speaks to me.”
Janeway and the band embrace these ideals on their 2022 album The alien coast, mixing their grooves with heavy guitar, psychedelic atmospheres and even industrial textures. He found inspiration by reading about pre-colonial America (the title of the album was one of the first names of explorers from the Gulf of Mexico) and, as with their previous album Young sick camellia, in works of visual art. The dreamlike “Minotaur” refers to a figure in Picasso’s art, while the strange “Bermejo and the Devil” is inspired by the work of Bartolomé Bermejo. Saint Michael triumphs over the devil.
“Growing up in rural Alabama, you’re not exposed to much,” Janeway says. “I went to community college and took a few art history classes and it really spoke to me. Music inspires me, but going to see a great work of art, not in a musical sense, really inspires me something.
A popular and exciting live act, St. Paul & the Broken Bones has been back on the road regularly since 2021. Janeway admits he still has some apprehensions about the risks of Covid in concert halls – for a while he s has refrained from his fourth feature – smashing trips into the audience – but he feels he has no choice when it comes to canceling gigs.
“I have people coming to see the show and I can’t not do the show,” he says. “We follow the locals [health guidelines] and if it’s really bad, maybe we take some precautions. But it’s been so hard to navigate that I think you’re hitting the road and it’s your bubble, so you’re like, “Oh yeah, it’s okay.” You can get sucked into it.
With a slew of dates coming through late August and September, St. Paul will be busy presenting the new album to the public. When it comes time to think about the next album, he says it won’t be like the old-school soul of their debut half the townnor will it be similar to The alien coast. Janeway wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Every fucking thing we put out, I hope people are going to like it. I hope it gets universal praise and stuff,” he says. “But that’s a side thing to me. . The first thing is, do I like it? Do I appreciate it? ‘Cause I’m gonna have to play one plot.”